D3Publisher follows up their 2007 hit with a sequel that is both addictive and polished.
Although many gamers fell in love with its brilliant marriage of RPG and match-3 gameplay, the original Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords for DS was severely flawed, a buggy mess that at times felt half-finished. Three years have passed, and now D3 Publisher has released Puzzle Quest 2, which improves on the original in almost every way. It shows polish, depth, and has a new focus on exploration that helps scratch the RPG itch even better than the first game. The end result is a fantastic sequel that works on almost every level.
The game contains four character classes (barbarian, sorcerer, assassin, and templar), each of which has different benefits and drawbacks. As you progress through the game, you character will learn spells that suit its class, as well as gain the opportunity to add to your character stats in a way that complements the way you want to play the game. As I played through with a barbarian I focused mainly on strength and agility, which allowed me to swing a two-handed Legendary Hellforged Zaltir which often took out any given opponent in 3-4 shots. All of the other classes have similar benefits; the sorcerer can use mana tonics to regain mana during battle, as well as use a wide variety of magical spells. Assassins have high agility, and can use powerful poison attacks. Templars are masters of defense, and can also use the most powerful armor and shields.
Actions are a welcome addition to the Puzzle Quest formula, allowing for the use of weapons, potions, and other items that can aide you during your furious gem-matching by giving you a quick boost of HP or launching an attack using a weapon. As you match "action tiles", you earn points that you can spend to use one of the items you are carrying in your hand. Combined with the five slots for magic spells (cast by using mana earned from gem-matching), you're given a nice arsenal of attacks that help you win battles. For the most part, the battles aren't terribly difficult once you get a handle on the strategy needed to work well with your character.
While in the first game you moved from town to town on a map, Puzzle Quest 2 zooms in on the action considerably, allowing you to explore complex dungeons and approach monsters on your own terms. The top screen shows you an automap that contains quest locations (both optional and mandatory) and your current location. As you explore the dungeons, you will frequently come across portals that allow you to travel back to town to unload your inventory.
The interface feels quite polished, with touch screen prompts being responsive and easy to use. The menu system feels well laid-out, with easy-to-find inventory and character sheets that allow for quick reference. The game does a good job of not overwhelming you with too much information, letting you customize your character at your own pace.
The RPG elements feel a little scaled back when compared to the original title, and things like city-conquering are nowhere to be found. As a gamer who felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content in the first game, this feels is a welcome change; it's a definite case of "less is more".
The graphics and music aren't anything particularly spectacular, but they don't detract from the gameplay, either. Because of the laid-back style of gem-matching, many people will probably play the game while watching TV or sitting on the bus, and probably won't even experience the music and sound. The hand-drawn art is nice, but there isn't much in terms of animation.
While there is local multiplayer, two copies of the game are needed and thus I was unable to try it out. The lack of online multiplayer in the DS version is puzzling, considering that the feature exists in the game on other platforms such as Xbox Live Arcade. The simplicity of Match-3 style gameplay seems like it would be an ideal fit for online competition, so this is certainly disappointing.
Puzzle Quest 2 doesn't have the fresh, "gotta-try-it" feeling of the original title, but for those who enjoyed the ideas behind Puzzle Quest but weren't thrilled with the execution, this sequel is a no-brainer purchase. It feels like a breath of fresh air…relentlessly addictive fresh air.